Justice for wrongfully prosecuted Muslims

Thank you all for signing! We sent the petition to President Obama and Attorney General Holder on July 9, 2009. Please go to www.projectsalam.org for information about our next petition available now, July, 2009. Dear President Obama and Attorney General Holder: This is the fourth in a series of letters to you urging that you restore the rule of law in America and release innocent persons, mostly Muslims, who were illegally targeted and convicted under the Bush Administration. We will continue to write to you to raise these cases of conscience until justice is finally done. 1. U.S. v. Theodore Stevens (U.S. Senator from Alaska)––Prosecutorial Misconduct Project SALAM congratulates you for your actions in the Stevens case, in which a U.S. Senator from Alaska was convicted of accepting bribes. Later you reviewed the case and discovered that the U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case had failed to turn over to the defense exculpatory evidence as required by law. As a result of this clear violation of law by attorneys in the Justice Department, you dismissed the case and referred the conduct of the attorneys for professional discipline. Your actions in the Stevens case were absolutely correct. We ask you to extend this same rule of law to all the hundreds of cases of innocent Muslims illegally entrapped by the Justice Department. When you start on this review of Muslim defendants convicted in the government- induced hysteria following 9/11, we are convinced that you will find the same illegal activity by U.S. prosecutors. It is now clear that the Justice Department understood that most of the Muslims prosecuted for terrorist-related crimes after 9/11 were not guilty of any crimes at all––at best the government was simply suspicious that they might support crimes in the future. Your FBI and Justice Department are very open about this. They refer to these prosecutions as “preemptive prosecutions”––meaning that the defendants are prosecuted before they can commit a crime. We think that this term does not really capture what is involved. “Preemptive entrapment” would perhaps be a better term to describe what happens legally, and “preemptive internment” might be a better term to describe what has been done to these Muslims. They have been essentially interned by our government in the same way that hundreds of thousands of Japanese were interned during the Second World War, except that the internment is hidden under a veneer of criminal prosecution. The prosecutors’ files in these cases will certainly show this, in the same way that the prosecutors’ files in the Stevens case showed that the prosecutors failed to turn over exculpatory information. It is not just the Stevens case, of course, that raises this issue. Federal judges have repeatedly raised concerns about the honesty and integrity of federal prosecutors trying terror-related charges. Judge Emmet Sullivan has expressed outrage at government prosecutors for withholding critical information in U.S. v. Aymen Saeed Batarfi, a case which has since been dismissed, and implied that this pattern of prosecutorial misconduct extended to other Guantanamo cases over which he is presiding. Judge Leonie Brinkema has also criticized government prosecutors in several cases pending before her. What is surprising is that you have not already begun an investigation of these cases to determine whether U.S. prosecutors have committed misconduct. Ted Stevens was a U.S. Senator, and the Guantanamo detainees occupy the very lowest social level in the U.S., but all are equal before the law. Each case deserves the same high level of fidelity to the law and to justice. 2. The Lodi Case––Hamid and Umer Hayat––The First Big Entrapment Case In this letter, we want to highlight the unfair way that the U.S. government has been using agents provocateur, as part of its preemptive prosecution program, to entrap Muslims who have no intention of engaging in illegal activity. We wrote to you about this issue in our second letter, which described the case of U.S. v. Yassin Aref and U.S. v. Mohammed Hossain. After 9/11, the Bush Administration freed the FBI from the constitutional restraints that normally would have prevented a law enforcement agency from entrapping individuals who had no intent to commit crimes. The idea was to preemptively prosecute Muslims before they could commit a terrorist act. In practice, this program has amounted to the U.S. government manufacturing charges against people who had no connection with terrorism and no interest in it. One of the first big experiments with preemptive prosecution began when a store clerk reported to the FBI that Zawahiri, the Number 2 man in Al Qaeda, had visited the mosque in Lodi, California. This claim was preposterous and not true. Nevertheless, the FBI gave the clerk money and a tape recorder, and for three years he walked around the mosque tape-recording everything he could. No criminal activity was found, although the two imams from the mosque were deported for immigration violations. Then the government agent, who by then had been paid over $250,000 by the government, focused on a new target––the Hayats. This was easy, because the Hayats had taken the agent into their home and treated him like a son. In return, the agent secretly tape-recorded the family. The son in the family, Hamid Hayat, went on a trip to Pakistan to arrange his wedding and also to take care of his mother. While he was in Pakistan, the government agent kept calling him like a brother on the telephone, goading Hamid to join a training camp and take up jihad. Upon Hamid’s return he was arrested, and after a grueling interrogation he confessed to having attended a jihadist training camp. Hamid’s father, Umer, was also arrested and confessed to attending a training camp. The father’s description of the training camp was so bizarre––it was supposedly as big as a football field, all underground, with ninja-like people practicing pole vaulting––that it seemed likely he had made the whole thing up and had never been to a training camp. He just wanted to appear to cooperate with the FBI. Eventually Hamid was convicted of providing material support for terrorists and was sentenced to twenty-four years in prison. His father’s case ended in a hung jury, and the father pleaded guilty to a minor charge to avoid a retrial. Entirely apart from whether any crime was proven to have occurred, it is wrong for the government to allow one of its agents provocateur to follow someone around with a secret tape recorder for years, pretending to be the person’s friend and urging the person to commit crimes. This fits the classic definition of entrapment. We ask you to please look at the Hayat case and see if the files themselves do not indicate that Hamid Hayat and his father were entrapped. 3. The Fort Dix 5––More Entrapment by Agents Provocateur In January 2006, a store clerk in South Jersey, NJ gave the FBI a videotape of some young men riding horseback, having a pillow fight, shooting guns at a firing range, and shouting Islamic phrases. The men––brothers Eljvir, Dritan, and Shain Duka, along with Mohammed Shnewer and Serdar Tatar––had given the videotape, which had been shot during their vacation together in the Pocono Mountains, to the clerk to copy. The FBI decided that the group was suspicious and sent in two agents provocateur––Muslim men who had been convicted of serious crimes and were willing to cooperate with the government in exchange for leniency––to try to entrap the young men in criminal activity. The agents showered attention on the young men and used money and manipulation to build up their interest in jihad. They showed the young men jihadist videos, taunted the men on their lack of resolve to take action, and followed the young men around with a hidden recording device to record every word spoken in passion or anger. By May 2007, the agents had persuaded one of the defendants to discuss a possible attack on Ft. Dix when the other youths were not present. Another defendant gave the agent a map of the base in response to the agents’ demands. The agents then persuaded the defendants to buy some automatic weapons, supposedly for target shooting. At this point, the whole group was arrested and charged with conspiracy, even though no definite plan had been made to attack anything and most of the defendants had never had a conversation with the agent about any plan to attack Ft. Dix. They were eventually convicted and sentenced to life plus thirty years. (That is to say, their sentences will expire thirty years after they have died.) The young men who became the Ft. Dix 5 were foreign-born, but they had grown up American. Three of them ran a roofing business and took vacations together with their friends and families in the Poconos. They wanted the guns so that they would not have to wait in line at the firing range. None of them had ever been involved in terrorism, and it does not appear that any of them would have been involved, save for the long and expensive effort of the U.S. government to entrap them. All of the defendants are vouched for by a community of supporters who know the character of the defendants, know that the defendants were not terrorists, and had no intention of hurting anyone. They were men with families; people who love America; people who supported their communities. They had everything to lose and little, if anything, to gain by becoming involved in the FBI plot. For people who know the defendants’ characters, the FBI’s “evidence” is simply trickery, lies, and manipulation. It is unpersuasive and unjust. 4. The Miami 6 (Liberty City) Case––More Entrapment Batiste, the leader of a religious group in a part of Miami known as Liberty City, was reported to have told people that he wanted to overthrow the U.S. government by blowing up the Sears Tower so that it would fall on a nearby prison and release hundreds of Muslims, who would become his army with which he would establish his own country. This information was relayed to the FBI, who dispatched an agent provocateur to try to influence Batiste into turning his nonsensical fantasy into a real conspiracy. The agent persuaded Batiste that Osama bin Laden wanted him to bomb FBI offices in several cities, and the agent persuaded seven men to take an oath to bin Laden. Shortly afterwards, one of the men left the group, and it fell apart without having made any plans to do anything. The first two trials ended with hung juries; jurors refused to convict the six remaining men essentially for having taken an oath to bin Laden in a theatrical script written and directed by the FBI and the agent provocateur. On May 12, 2009, a third jury finally convicted five of the Miami 6 of conspiracy. The defendants argued that the agent provocateur was offering them money for his outlandish plots and that they were willing to play along to get the money, not realizing that he was playing them along to get convictions. Entrapping such people with lies and manipulation is fundamentally wrong, and is contrary to the American understanding of the role of the government in a free society. 5. The Newburgh 4––Entrapment and the Slander of Islam On May 21, 2009, the FBI announced the indictment of four “Muslims,” Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen, on charges that they were “planning” to blow up a Jewish synagogue and shoot down an airplane with a missile. The Justice Department professed that these were violent Muslims who hated Jews and wanted to strike back against America for what it was doing in the Middle East. But when the facts emerged, it turned out that that the men, all American-born ex-convicts and hapless losers, were only marginally involved with Islam and participated in the plot only because it was set up, financed, and relentlessly promoted by an FBI agent provocateur, Shahed (“Maqsood”) Hussain. While in prison, two of the men had reported that they were Christian, and one reported no religious affiliation. None of them were apparently involved in regular prayers at any mosque or had much education about Islam. One was addicted to crack cocaine. Another was unemployed and took medication for mental health problems. Pretending that he was a devout Muslim, “Maqsood,” the agent provocateur, went to a mosque in Newburgh and began inviting other worshipers to meals so he could talk to them about violent jihad. He offered people a substantial amount of money to join his “team.” His con was so obvious that real Muslims concluded he was a government agent and avoided him, but he was able to attract Mr. Cromitie, an occasional attendee at the mosque. Eventually, through Mr. Cromitie, he was able to involve David and Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen in his plot. There is no doubt that with enough money and a clever con man, the FBI can entrap millions of gullible people in crazy schemes that would never otherwise have been considered. Drug addicts, people suffering from mental health issues, the unemployed, ex-convicts, frustrated teenagers––all are susceptible to flashy con men offering them money to act out their frustrations against society. The FBI could have entrapped similarly frustrated people in virtually any homeless outreach program or religious charitable organization. Entrapping such people is cruel and pointless and does not make us safer. If the government spent even half as much money helping such people develop their lives in a positive direction, we would all be safer and better off. Moreover, it is profoundly wrong for the government to pretend that the people it entrapped with money and fast talk were real Muslims, or that this was a violent Islamic scheme. The defendants had virtually nothing to do with mainstream Islam, and indeed Islamic leaders and mosque members avoided the agent provocateur’s scheming. The government set up the scheme to play on false stereotypes of violence, wrongly associated with Muslims, to incite hatred against Islam with the American people. The Newburgh 4 case is an embarrassment to law enforcement and a slander of Islam. It is the perfect example of why the government should not engage agents provocateur to entrap people, or to slander religions. All of these cases are similar to the case of U.S. v. Yassin Aref and U.S. v. Mohammed Hossain, about which we wrote you in our second letter. In that case, the government set up an elaborate plot to entrap an imam, Yassin Aref, and a member of his mosque, Mohammed Hossain. (Indeed Shahed “Maqsood” Hussain, the agent provocateur in the Newburgh 4 case, was also the agent provocateur––using the name “Malik”––in the Aref/Hossain case, and he used a similar entrapment plot involving a missile. There is no doubt that Shahed Hussain, a convicted felon, is a con man and manipulator, but it is wrong for the government to use his nefarious talent to create frauds with which to ruin innocent people). These cases illustrate the injustice that occurs when the U.S. government goes into the business of entrapping its citizens in crime using almost unlimited resources, money, and psychological manipulation. This is especially so when the details of the “plot” are only discussed with one member of the group, but all of the members are held responsible for being part of this plot that they have never heard of. We are confident that if you examine the files in these cases with an open mind, as you did in the case of Senator Stevens, you will agree that most if not all of the defendants in these cases never intended to engage in terrorist actions, and would not have become involved in any illegal activity except for the trickery and manipulation of the agents provocateur sent to entrap them. Yours very truly, Stephen Downs, 26 Dinmore Road, Selkirk NY. 12158; (518) 767-0102; swdowns68@aol.com

Sponsor

PROJECT SALAM - Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims A letter sponsored by Project SALAM is being sent to President Obama and Attorney General designate Eric Holder, requesting an investigation into the prosecutions that resulted in many innocent Muslims being tricked or manipulated into convictions and long prison sentences.

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